Offline Shopping: Why It’s Better For You

Ryan Ong



Online shopping hasn’t taken off in Asia like it has in the West, and thank god for that. I happen to like old fashioned Brick & Mortar (B&M) stores. How else can I build a surrogate social life besides sales staff who are paid to talk to me? Besides, back in my day, the only people who shopped online were Japanese businessmen with an underwear fetish. Based on their feedback intensive research, I’ve come to realize the many drawbacks of an Internet mall:


You Can’t Check the Product

Some products are hard to visualize. For example, how big, exactly, is a backpack that’s 18.5′ tall? Sure, I could get out a measuring tape. Or if I’m lucky, the site admin was smart enough to have a picture of someone carrying it. But as every hiker knows, it’s hard to tell if a pack size is comfortable until it’s on your shoulders.

Likewise, how am I supposed to know the material on shoes or clothes is comfortable? They may look like satin online, but feel like the business end of a toilet brush when I put them on. This is doubly true for sunglasses, which I will never buy online again. The marks of the last pair are permanently imprinted on my nose bridge.


Boy in massive pants
“Mum, did you miss the decimal point in the product description again?”


Shipping Costs

Shipping costs can neuter the price difference from buying online. Even small items (like books) can run up a shipping cost of $7 – $12. At that price, you may be getting a better deal just heading down to the book store. So much for a world without Borders (see what I did there? Borders? Never mind).

For bulkier items, don’t be amazed at shipping costs that hit $40 a kilo. If you buy a television online, the shipping alone might double the eventual cost.


It’s Harder to Get Refunds

Arguing with an online store is like playing soccer with your crotch: ridiculous and painful. However annoying a B&M store can get, most won’t ever come close. At the very least, a B&M store has a human being for you to talk to.


Shopkeeper obscured by baskets
Though sometimes, the shopkeeper can turn out to be a real basket case.


With online stores, be ready for ignored e-mails, answer bots, and week long waits between communiqués. Even threatening to drag them to court may not work, since they may be outside your country. Your only hope is if they’re honest and want repeat business. Otherwise, resign yourself to buying a baseball bat and a plane ticket.


Billing Errors are Slower to Deal With

In a B&M store, you can correct billing errors on the spot. When the clerk enters the wrong amount, you just look at the bill and shriek like a cheerleader. They’ll cancel the payment and redo it on the spot.

With an online store, you may not realize the error until the credit card bill’s in the mail. While you’ve probably got a receipt sent to your mailbox, it can still take an annoyingly long time to fix the issue.


Bill Clinton
And whenever you try to Google “Bill Error”, all you get are pictures of this guy.


No Haggling

For some products (such as musical instruments or model engines), many B&M stores have room for negotiation. This is especially true of specialist and hobby stores. Online, you can’t negotiate squat. The price is fixed, and odds are, it’s not a better deal than a local store will give you.

Online stores are also impersonal. Their only sense of your loyalty is a digit on an Excel spreadsheet, and that’s assuming they bother to track sales. In a B&M store, building a relationship with a store owner can sometimes translate to discounts.


Identity Theft

It’s a lot easier to have your identity stolen online. Hackers evolve just as fast as payment companies; it’s not unusual to see mirror sites that mimic the real thing, or for online stores to have their transaction records stolen. If some pimple faced teenager in Hong Kong maxes out your credit card, odds are he got it through your online payment.


Shady guy on phone
“Sure I stole your card, but look on the plus side: I’m earning you serious bonus miles!”


Even if you don’t have your identity stolen, you may have other problems. When Sony’s Playstation network was hacked, some of my friends’ e-mails were suddenly on the list of every illegal Viagra site on Earth.

So before you start shopping online, ponder the possible costs. At the very least, don’t buy something too expensive. Keep your purchases under $150, especially if you’ve never used the site before. And make an effort to research the local prices. It may be cheaper to buy here than to pay for shipping.

Image Credits:

San Jose Library

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.